US to seek death penalty against alleged Somali pirates in yacht hijacking

Federal prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against three Somalis if they are convicted of murder in the deaths of four Americans who were shot aboard a hijacked yacht last year.

Ahmed Muse Salad, Abukar Osman Beyle and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar could also face the death penalty on numerous other charges related to the hijacking. They include hostage taking resulting in death, violence against maritime navigation resulting in death and kidnapping resulting in death. In total, 22 of the 26 counts are death-eligible offenses.

A filing that says prosecutors would seek the death penalty was unsealed on Monday. The decision to seek the death penalty is made by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

The owners of the yacht Quest, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., along with friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were the first Americans to be killed in a wave of pirate attacks off the coast of Africa despite an international flotilla of warships that regularly patrol the area. A U.S. Navy warship was shadowing the Quest when shots rang out onboard the yacht.

In all, 19 men boarded the American boat. Four of them died on board -- including two who have also been identified in court records as those who shot at the Americans. One person was released by authorities because he is a juvenile. Eleven other men have pleaded guilty to piracy and been sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the case.

A 12th man who never boarded the Quest and was identified as the lead hostage negotiator was convicted of piracy on Friday. Prosecutors wanted to wait until that case was over before unsealing their filing because they were concerned about the publicity it might bring.